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October 02, 2009


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What is Wealth? Invariably when you ask this, money is one of the first and consistent answers, but in a recent conversation, I friend invited me to consider that money is not wealth at all, but another sometimes related thing. Well, not the thing either, but a stand in a metric for things generally, for what we also call "resources". This is the space for questions of value, efficiency, for measuring these things. To be sure an universal scale of value for scarce resources is a good thing, but it is quite problematic when wealth is collapsed into a metric for another class of thing entirely.

Geoff (http://regenerosity.com/) likes to conceive of wealth in the strength of the relationships between us. You can only make the population focus on the first bottom line by creating artificial scarcities. When we discover the power of connection as enabled by technology, social media and all the rest, there is no reason to seed fear and revolution. We can learn to satisfy our basic human needs with a lot less in the resources space, but much much more in the spaces of relationship and service to one another. The second bottom line subsumes the first, not the other way around.

Phil Cubeta

Yes, so good to hear your voice here again, Gerry. It has been kind of lonely in the philanthropy bidns. The don't need a moral tutor it turns out and the poor are tired of hanging about waiting for the alms.


We can learn to satisfy our basic human needs with a lot less in the resources space, but much much more in the spaces of relationship and service to one another. The second bottom line subsumes the first, not the other way around.

I believe that this is the core premise of the school of thought and emerging theory of the Economics of Happiness (Dr. John Helliwell at the U of BC, researchers at the U of Bologna, Jane Jacobs' work, Hermann Daly, and a number of others) and the Ethical Economy (Arvinsson and Peiterson).

It is gaining awareness around the world, I believe. How could it not as the moral aridity and cruelty of today's distorted arrangements is revealed more clearly every week ? Economy and society involve people, and exchange and interaction are the true currencies of life, however any proxy might operate.


I really think the key insight, which I credit to Geoff is to realize that the subset of currencies that we often think of as universal, money, is not concerned with happiness at all. Happiness, or "the General Welfare" as it is termed in the U.S. Constitution are categorically different than "resources" which are the only things tracked with money. You can't trade for happiness or love. To be sure, extreme lack of resources can make one unhappy to the point of focussing on nothing else.

It boggles that those most concerned with personal liberties, the right of the individual to do whatever he pleases with his property, are not concerned when property rights trump personal freedoms that are even more dear to us. That the right to profit for the most rapacious in the health care industry trumps our right of fair access to healthcare.

I would also add that healthy markets, in health care or global finance for example, are wealth for all, and therefore organization and regulation of these markets must necessarily remain outside the influence of market participants. The markets themselves are not a resource to be bought and sold, but rather a common-wealth asset.

Phil Cubeta

Happiness roughly translates the Greek word eudaemonia, which mean a life well lived in community with others, in a well ordered or just society, a life of excellence, honor, achievement and virtue. In that aristocratic, warrior culture, the merchant was disdained, as was the tradesman. To be caught up in personal wants, needs and desires was to be mastered by your base self, enslaved, in bondage to the flesh. Christain doctrine taught much the same. It was not until the 18th century thay you see this conflation of happiness with worldly success, the philosophy of merchants and venturers, like Daniel Defoe. Happiness studies rightly pursued would reintroduce these considerations of what is best for human beings. At its worst it becomes a way to peddle moods and emotions by nostrums, pharmaceuticals and motivational programs.


Quoting a friend who thinks this is too incendiary (so I will quote anonymously):

Lately I have seen others questioning what is "financial capital" that needs a return along with returns on social and natural capital in the "triple bottom line." Although I am repulsed by the notion that the value of capital is merely its productive capacity, financial capital seems to lack even that (unless you count the production of "bubbles"). Yesterday I realized that financial capital is the power to decide what will or won't happen, so it's basically a form of leadership. However, to the extent that leadership is based upon wisdom, the wisdom inherent in financial capital is the learning and practice of accumulating power over others.
Phil Cubeta

What is so incendiary about that? Sounds like it could be talk in business school.

Phil Cubeta

Two bottom lines extend the control mechanisms into areas otherwise intimate, convivial, sacred. Two bottom lines are what colonialism once was, only under globalism the new territory to colonize is won from the sacred. (Now that is incendiary.)

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